When jockey Benny Woodworth was rubbed out for four days for careless riding back in early March, little did he know he would actually end up sitting at home without a job for four months!
As outlandish as this scenario may sound, it came about because the Malaysian jockey lives in Johor Bahru, and the protracted exile was due to this bombshell that hit the whole world and closed all borders; COVID-19.
As his two weeks of enforced holiday at his family pad in Senibong Cove neared its end on March 27, cross-border travel between Singapore and Johor Bahru was suddenly closed on March 18 in one of the measures to stem the pandemic.
Benny Woodworth steers home his last winner Yulong Edition on March 7, picture Singapore Turf Club
Woodworth never saw that one coming. He was stuck and stranded, even though he is geographically only a 10-minute ride from the Immigration Checkpoint. So near and yet so far.
As a Singapore Permanent Resident, he could apply for a special permit to come over, but he was hit with a double whammy when Singapore racing was also suspended by the Circuit Breaker on April 17.
With Singapore off-limits to Malaysians, Woodworth was in the same predicament as fellow countrymen riders living across the Causeway, Wong Chin Chuen, Mohd Zaki and Iskandar Rosman (who unlike him, are, however, not PRs), but with racing out of the equation, all of their 25-odd jockeys’ room colleagues at Kranji were also in for a long time twiddling their thumbs.
But when it was recently announced that racing would resume on July 11, Woodworth decided he would use his PR privilege to travel to Singapore, even if it meant spending two weeks in quarantine, and worst of all, not seeing his family for possibly months on end.
Like crossing the Rubicon, the 46-year-old jockey packed his saddle and returned down South on June 24. After returning negative to COVID-19 testing on Tuesday, he exits his mandatory 14-day isolation in a downtown hotel the next day and can begin trackwork on Thursday.
Two days later, 126 days since his last ride aboard Watch Out Boss (third) on March 7 (when he rode a double on Ironclad and Yulong Edition to cement his sixth place on the log on 12 winners), he will finally get to do the job he loves - riding in a race.
“I can’t wait to get out of hell. I mean the hotel is nice and the Singapore government has been taking really good care of me, but I’ve been bored doing nothing for so long already, it was so frustrating,” said Woodworth over the phone from his hotel room.
“Some people asked me to wait until the borders reopen, but I didn’t want to take that risk, even if it means I won’t get to see my family for a while as it’s not worth doing two weeks of quarantine again and another two weeks on the way back.
“I’m glad I’ll get to ride again this Saturday. I won’t ride in all 14 races as that would be too much for someone who hasn’t ridden for four months.
“I’ve been booked for around seven to eight rides, including Salamence for Daniel Meagher, Admiral Winston for Mark Walker and Crown Gift for KY (Keah Yong) Young.”
While riding only half of the card is a move which will probably be copied by most of his fellow jockeys also coming back from such a long spell, Woodworth is confident he won’t be blowing too hard after a few meetings, even if July consists of only two on July 11 and 26.
“I’ve done what I can to stay fit during the lockdown, but with so many months not riding, I don’t know if it will be enough,” he said.
“I followed some exercises on YouTube at home. I did Tabata workouts, a Japanese form of high intensity interval training. My weight is around 55kgs now, but I’m sure I can lose some more by Saturday.
“Fingers crossed, I make a winning comeback, but I’m just happy to be back riding.”